• Why Really Smart Executives Do Really Stupid Things

    From (David P.)@21:1/5 to All on Tue Jun 7 13:07:38 2022
    Why Really Smart Executives Do Really Stupid Things
    By Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Feb. 18, 2022, WSJ

    CEO exits due to workplace misconduct are all too common.
    Over and over we hear about top officials at companies,
    universities or in government resigning, either because they
    had affairs with subordinates in their inner circles or made
    verbal advances to junior workers that went too far.

    These fallen chiefs are generally very smart people, often
    with stellar career histories. So why do they allow themselves
    to get involved in situations that allegedly or actually violate
    standards they helped set or signed off on? What is it about
    life at the top that seduces them (so to speak) into forgetting
    that the rules apply to them, too?

    Here are a few tendencies that, when left unchecked, might help
    explain why so many top executives make surprising stumbles.

    Feeling insulated
    It’s amazing how easy it is for top executives to feel they
    have a cloak of invisibility, even if they operate in the
    public eye. They have backdoors into the ballroom for the
    convention. Chauffeured cars to whisk them away from crowds
    and lines. Private showers near their offices. A small number
    of close personal aides who keep doors closed and clean up
    messes. Because of this insulation, some top executives who
    should know better may falsely believe they can separate their
    personal lives and conduct from their official role. To them,
    even email seems private, so they send line-crossing messages

    Feeling entitled
    Self-confidence can veer into arrogance if an executive isn’t
    careful. Surrounded by flatterers exaggerating the brilliance
    of their words, top officials can start feeling superior to the
    mere mortals below. They have incentives or punishments to dangle
    that can inspire fear and keep people in line. So in addition to
    feeling invincible, these leaders can start to feel indispensable.
    They begin to think that they are the company, essential to its
    success. Therefore, they feel justified in seizing what they want
    for themselves, believing they are entitled to indulge.

    Buying their own hype
    Those at the top of organizations learn to tell a good story.
    Exuding optimism and putting a positive spin on events attracts investors/voters/talent. Some executives, however, start believing
    their own hype about how the only important thing is the quarterly
    earnings report or the next big donation. As for a bit of misconduct,
    they tell themselves they can compensate for it with good performance,
    or end it before anyone notices. The problem is, the impulse remains.
    They seek the same burst of gratification again. And once they relax self-control, it’s easier to do it the next time.

    Failing to admit mistakes
    It can be hard for some people at the top to say, “I was wrong,”
    which is why misconduct often continues and requires covering up.
    Sometimes executives don’t want to admit flaws even to themselves,
    fearing it could lead to second-guessing of other decisions. They
    might know they are breaking a rule but delude themselves into
    thinking that the rule doesn’t apply exactly to their situation.
    They tell themselves it’s consensual. It’s just harmless banter.
    It will be over soon. Whatever the excuse, they cling to it to
    avoid having to express self-doubt.

    Underestimating opponents
    When questionable behavior comes to light—even if the problem is
    a misunderstanding, or ethically fuzzy, like words being taken out
    of context—what happens next depends on internal political dynamics,
    and who is on the CEO’s side. Executives, however, sometimes fail
    to realize the implications when not everyone is pulling for them,
    and they let down their guard. But colleagues can be envious. They
    wonder and whisper and are ready to pounce at the mere hint of a
    slip. And depending on whether they have created a positive,
    supportive culture for everyone, CEOs can find that flatterers
    quickly turn into gossips and whistleblowers, eager to push them out.

    In short, life is different at the top. Without great strength of
    character, humility in wielding power, openness and transparency,
    top executives can forget that the rules apply to them, too. It’s
    tragic that sometimes just one stumble erases an otherwise stellar

    Kanter is the Arbuckle Professor at Harvard Business School,
    founding chair of the Harvard University Advanced Leadership
    Initiative, and author, most recently, of “Think Outside the
    Building: How Advanced Leaders Can Change the World One Smart
    Innovation at a Time.”


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